Thursday 14 December 2017

Thumbs up for Benwiskin

The Benwiskin Centre in Ballintrillick impresses judges in final round of the 'get involved' awards

Sorcha Crowley

The Benwiskin Community Centre is giving Ballintrillick a sustainable future.

That's according to Broadcaster and Environmentalist Duncan Stewart who visited last week to judge the Centre for the final round of the 'Get Involved' Awards.

The centre is one of six finalists shortlisted from around the country and was visited by four judges on Thursday.

Duncan was joined by fellow Eco-Eye presenter and ecologist Anya Murray, Gillian Gannon of Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland (SEAI) and Kieron Phillips of the EPA.

Vegetable gardeners and centre directors Aidan Gillan and Ciara Barrett were on hand to show off their organic community garden to the judging panel, happily discussing rabbit invasions while the judges nibbled on freshly harvested rocket leaves in the polytunnel.

The centre is completely self-financing, using earnings from their hostel to fund community activities, services and workshops.

It was chosen as this newspapers entry into the 2016 'Get Involved' Community Awards.

"I think this is a model that could be used in other rural communities, even urban communities," enthused a clearly delighted Duncan afterwards.

"The whole idea of community gardens are taking off and it's great when you see them in rural areas, especially when there's great advice coming up on how to grow and how to produce food," he told The Sligo Champion.

"The organic aspect is so important, and the links to the little market in Cliffoney village. That is so important. I see a model like this as something that could be replicated everywhere," he said.

"With the right support and advice and information this could become mainstream. To me, it's very important to engage the whole of the local community in it, especially the farmers. They have a really important role in it," he believes.

"The more reach out that brings farmers in, they see the value and they can see how they can benefit from it. There are CSA schemes (Community Supported Agriculture), farmers markets, especially with the co-operative structure.

"I think there's great opportunities here. I see this very much as a catalyst, it's seeding the area with a sustainable future. That's gone out of Ireland. We've gone so unsustainable, we need to go back because we're heading for disaster,. These are the seeds we need and this is a very good example of it,"he added.

His fellow presenter on Eco-Eye Anya Murray was equally impressed.

"The gardens are lovely - the fact that it's taken place over 12 years has really improved the soil. I like that the locals are coming and going, it's a hub, there's a social element to it as well as doing workshops on how to use the vegetables and things like chard," she said.

"The activities like the card nights are absolutely brilliant. Things like the tourist income is funding the community activities - it's an ideal model really, a self-sustainable community hub. There are so many rural communities that don't have any kind of a hub," she said.

"The life goes out of it when you don't have somewhere just to meet and talk and gossip about whatever it is. This is a community that is doing it for itself," she said.

Marie O'Donovan and Paddy Connolly were among the gardeners tending to the polytunnel when Duncan popped his head around the corner.

"For me, I grew up in a city, I've only recently moved to Sligo and for me its the connection with nature, getting my hands in the earth, meet and greet people, Ciara is a great educator about the garden," she told The Sligo Champion.

Paddy was the former caretaker and still walks down the road every morning to water the plants.

"I like to keep things well. I'm only half a mile from here," he said.

The Awards ceremony takes place this Thursday in the Crown Plaza hotel in Dublin.

Sligo Champion

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